There is little doubt that the AUT located at five centres can develop rapidly once the funding bottlenecks disappear.
As affiliation became quite unmanageable for Anna University, Tamil Nadu started establishing technical universities across the State to manage the proliferation and monitor the quality of engineering education. The government has five technical universities — Anna University of Technology (AUT) Tiruchi, AUT Coimbatore, AUT Tirunelveli, AUT Chennai and AUT Madurai — to improve the quality of technical education in the State.
A quick stock-taking of the functioning of the universities reveals that none of the universities have campuses of their own at present. At Coimbatore, it has been functioning from a rented site (factory) in the city's outskirts for the past three years. At Tirunelveli, it is functioning from a complex . In Chennai, it is housed in the Central polytechnic premises. In Madurai also, it is in a temporary premises.
Of course, the State has ensured that enough land has been allotted to all five technical universities. Chennai campus will come up at Karappakkam, Madurai campus on Alagarkoil Road, and Coimbatore campus near Bharathiar University. “There are set procedures to be followed causing delay. The State will be spending somewhere between Rs. 25 crore to Rs. 50 crore to develop the required infrastructure initially,” says an official of the higher education department.
As there seems to be no common vision document on the part of the State to recreate the successful Anna University model in the five technical universities, the policy notes of the higher education department on these technical universities show no vision or little foresight.
While the Central Universities receive up to Rs. 50 crore per year, the authorities of the technical universities have to be content with the seed money of Rs. 1 crore grant per year from the government and revenue accruing from affiliation, examination and other fee collected from the administration of engineering colleges.
“The Central universities do not collect affiliation fee. The technical universities have a revenue source. The State has chosen capable persons as authorities of the university to take it in the right direction,” says a vice-chancellor of one of the universities, requesting anonymity. According to officials in the know, the universities charge upward of Rs 50,000 per course per year. If an engineering college offers four courses, then the college will have to pay a minimum of Rs. 2 lakh every year. None of the authorities are willing to disclose the amount collected as affiliation fee. As AUT Coimbatore has enough money from affiliation fee, the State has asked it to fund the first phase of the construction of campus at about Rs. 67 crore, officials said.
Money obtained in the form of fee, grants and project approvals are not put to full use for want of a proper decision-taking body. At AUT Coimbatore, the first VC was suspended. The next VC is in. He has no powers as there is no full-fledged Syndicate in place. Apart from the VC and MLA, only the government secretaries, the ex-officio members, are there. The other members have not been appointed and all decisions are hanging in limbo. The staff strength is not even half of what is required. “We have our seniors taking classes for us,” says a first-year M. Tech student at AUT Coimbatore.
AUT Tiruchi has had it relatively smooth. Into its fourth year of existence now, it could assume the dimension of a university at the very outset since the process of transfer of 300 acres of land along with quality infrastructure from the Bharathidasan University was smooth. AUT-T took off exercising the leverage to evolve new programmes and create opportunities for teaching faculty with just B.E. qualification to acquire M.E. degree under Modular-Based Credit Banking Scheme.
Affiliated colleges which faced enormous difficulties in corresponding with the parent university consider the new set-up very convenient. The issue of quality education, however, evokes mixed response. “The one crore rupees a year that the State provides to the university is insufficient even to cover two months of salaries for the teaching and non-teaching faculty,” said an official.
No 12B status
The 2F status that the newly-formed technical universities now enjoy, only confers degree awarding status; the 12B status that would qualify the universities to receive Central grants is still elusive. According to officials, the AUTs, created by acts in the State legislature, will be eligible for 12B status on completion of five years. The Finance Committees and Syndicates of the technical universities will have to take the effort to obtain the 12B status, officials emphasise.
“The understanding of the system is key. No university can come up overnight. Take-off will be gradual. Engineers are here to solve problems,” says Prof.C. Thangaraj, vice-chancellor, AUT Chennai. Housed in the Central Polytechnic campus in Taramani, the university is yet to settle down quietly.
“It will take a minimum of two years to consolidate,” says R. Murugesan, vice-chancellor, AUT Madurai. In its eighth month of existence, it is already offering several full-time and part-time courses. Identifying nanotechnology as a thrust area, he says the university has sent a proposal to the Department of Science and Technology for Rs. 10 crore for setting up a nanotechnology centre. Research alone can distinguish any university, he adds.